The differently-abled in our society tend to be marginalised due to an overall lack of understanding surrounding how to properly interact with them.
This lack of understanding then turns into stereotypes and misconceptions, which unfortunately affect many aspects of their lives.
One such aspect is the lack of employment, likely due to many employers believing that people with disabilities lack the necessary knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics needed for certain jobs.
Changing such mindsets and encouraging companies to adapt their processes to create welcoming workplaces for the differently-abled is a long and slow process, but that doesn’t mean that nothing is being done at all.
Tackling this gap is precisely why social enterprises such as Seven Tea One exist.
Seven Tea One currently has three outlets in Setia Alam, all within close proximity. Each outlet has its own purpose such as a therapy-based training centre, a central kitchen called Kitchen for Good, a café, and a production centre.
The central kitchen is named Kitchen for Good because of how it is equipped with café facilities.
One minute of patience, ten years of peace
Founded on the principle of inclusivity, Seven Tea One focuses on providing vocational and training skills to disabled teens.
Their focus also includes providing employment opportunities for teens in order to gain a dignified income so that they can live sustainable lives.
These teens are equipped with basic employment skills such as writing, recording, calculating, arranging, organising, with some more specific to the F&B line Seven Tea One is in, such as plucking, washing and cleaning, slicing and chopping, and more.
They’re also taught the basic living skills that includes communications, leadership, teamwork, friendship, human values (love, care, patience, tolerance, compassion), interaction, decision-making, and cognitive skills.
In doing all of these, they’re trained to build up their own independence too.
“We focus on teens from the B40 category, and single parentage as we wish to equip these teens with the ability to generate income and to not remain a liability to their families,” said founder, Lai Chong Haur.
As for the fees, teens under the B40 category are not required to pay anything for the first six months of their training period.
Once training has been completed, Seven Tea One will pay the teens RM5-RM10 per hour, in hopes that these wages can help their families.
However, teens that are not part of the B40 category are required to pay a sum of RM500 per month as part of their training fees.
“These fees will be used to buy all the raw materials for training purposes, as we teach them how to prepare their own meals,” justified Lai.
Founded in 2016, Seven Tea One faces the challenge of enhancing its teens’ productivity as most of them are limited in their talents and abilities without proper guidance.
Hence, the team needs to be patient and repetitive in training their teens.
Additionally, Lai admits that the social enterprise has always struggled financially.
“Our monthly expenses are usually very high, as we have to pay for three store rentals, wages for our teens, and raw materials for training,” shared Lai.
Although the social enterprise received some monetary grants from the government in 2019 and 2021, their main source of income is still generated from the sales of their products.
But their efforts have been noticed by private entities too, with CIMB providing the social enterprise with an RM50,000 grant that was used to set up its production centre.
“In 2020, we won the Coveted Golden Heart Award 2020 by The Star [and] received a total of RM5,000. We were also the top winner for the Gamuda Inspiration Award 2020, [and] received an award of RM50,000,” Lai shared.
Filling in the gap
Lai wasn’t with Seven Tea One from the start (2016), only taking over the social enterprise in 2018.
Prior to that, he worked as a HR practitioner for over 20 years. But he’s always had an interest in community work and environmental conservation, involving himself in both for over a decade, so Seven Tea One wasn’t new work to him.
Aside from running Seven Tea One on a full-time basis, he runs his own human resources consultancy and outsourcing firm in Puchong, HK Harmony Resources.
Being continuously involved in the HR field, Lai finds that there is still a noticeable gap in the marketplace.
“Teens with disabilities or special needs are having a hard time in securing employment due to their lack of vocational skills, academic credentials, and behavioural shortcomings,” he observed.
Hence, Seven Tea One’s objective is to fill in that gap in the market and to be able to provide these teens with an opportunity and a place for them to grow and learn.
The social enterprise’s Operations Manager, Bibi Bong, is also their beneficiary and a full-time trainer for the teens there.
Bibi and the team train the teens in producing infusion herbal tea, baking, cooking, and making dried fruits.
“Once the teens are capable and ready, we will then absorb them to be our employees. To date, we have converted six special teens to be our employees and they each earn a minimum of RM1,200 a month,” stated Lai.
The future is made of the same stuff as the present
Seven Tea One must be doing something right because they have played a role in breaking the barrier of unemployment within the disabled community.
“We have teens that secured employment outside of Seven Tea One and their salaries range from RM1,100 – RM1,680,” Lai proudly shared.
Currently, Seven Tea One is in the process of making its products Halal certified. They’re also actively conducting product development, enhancing their packaging, and sourcing more corporate customers.
To date, Seven Tea One has supplied their products to various banks, insurance companies, and corporate companies, and it’s good to see such support for their mission.
Moving forward, Lai shared, “We hope to set up more Seven Tea One centres in different states so that we can widen our impact and be accessible to communities that need us.”
Featured Image Credit: Seven Tea One